Destroyed crops, no relief, struggling to feed cattle: UP’s flood-hit villagers

Flood-affected people ride on a boat on the banks of Rapti river to move to a safer place in Gorakhpur in July 2020. Villagers in eastern Uttar Pradesh said that they witness floods almost yearly. However, they said, the situation this year appears to be the worst in recent times. PTI
21 August, 2020

In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, several parts of India are reeling from devastating floods, including sixteen districts of Uttar Pradesh. According to a tweet by the chief minister’s office, posted on 18 August, the floods have affected 838 villages in these districts—which include Ambedkar Nagar, Azamgarh, Deoria, Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Mau and Sant Kabir Nagar—and of these, 520 are submerged. In previous tweets, the CMO noted that multiple rivers, including the Ghaghara, were flowing at dangerous levels. 

Villagers in eastern Uttar Pradesh told me that they witness floods almost yearly. However, they said, the situation this year appears to be the worst in recent times. Several residents of this region migrate to bigger cities for work, but after the imposition of the countrywide lockdown to contain the coronavirus in March, many of them had to return home. With fewer job opportunities available in their native villages, some of them sustained themselves by working on farms. But when floods hit the region towards the end of July, villagers said their farms were inundated, leaving little scope to earn a living. 

According to residents, many houses collapsed in their villages. They said they feared that the embankments near their homes, which were dilapidated, would break down completely due to overflowing rivers. While the Uttar Pradesh government has been posting about its relief efforts on its Twitter accounts, residents I spoke to said they had received almost no assistance from the administration. Moreover, despite the Adityanath led-state government’s emphasis on cattle protection, almost all residents I spoke to characterised the unavailability of fodder as their biggest challenge during the floods.

Among the residents was Shubham Yadav, who said he is pursuing a PhD from the University of Delhi. Shubham, a 26-year-old, lives in Ambedkar Nagar district’s Golwa village with eight family members. “We sustain ourselves by farming,” he said. “But all of it is ruined now.” He said the family lost paddy, spread over three bighas of land, to the floods this year. “It has become very difficult for my mother and aunt to look after our cattle, to find fodder for them,” he said. “We have some straw, which we can feed for now.” But it will be difficult to feed them in the coming days, he said. “If the situation worsens, we will have to sell our cattle as others are already doing.” 

“This year, the flood was more devastating than last year,” Shubham said. “We are facing two crises at once—corona had left us in dire straits already.” Shubham and his younger brother, a student at Rajasthan’s Kota city, were among the several people who had to return to their villages due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. According to him, when they returned, villagers were still able to find work as farm labourers. “Now there is nothing. No one knows how much time it will take to recover from this.” 

Shubham was apprehensive about the future. “As the flood ends, many diseases will spread—Dengue, Malaria and Encephalitis.” He did not seem to be expecting sufficient government aid either. “Last year, people received Rs 1,500 for ten bisse”—20 bisse equals one bigha land—“as flood compensation, which is very less. Those who have no land get nothing.” 

Like Shubham, most residents said they relied completely on farming for sustenance and had lost their paddy and sugarcane crops to the deluge. Chandramani Yadav is a 28-year-old farmer who lives in Mau district’s Mishroli village with his family of ten. Chandramani said his crops—17 acres of paddy and eight acres of sugarcane—were ruined. He said the women in his home had gone to a relative’s house, far away, as soon as the flood hit the village. 

Chandramani said he had three buffalos and two cows, but he was finding it difficult to find fodder for them. “Relatives have been asked to send it across,” he said. “Since water entered our home as well, our straw has also been ruined.” He, too, said people around him were being forced to sell their livestock due to a dearth of fodder. 

Rajesh Nishad, a 35-year-old resident of Naya Nagar village in Deoria district, also spoke about losing his crop and finding it difficult to feed his cattle. Rajesh is a part of the Nishad community, traditionally associated with fishing and other work centred on rivers, which has been struggling to make ends meet since the lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus began. To earn a living, Rajesh said, he used to grow vegetables on one bigha land and ferry them across Ghaghara river on his boat to sell them. 

“First, during the lockdown, no one was buying my vegetables,” Rajesh said. He told me he was growing lauki and kakdi—gourd and cucumber—at that time. “I uprooted them and planted okra, nenva and boda instead,” he said, referring to three other vegetables. “Now, the flood has completely ruined the crop.” Rajesh has seven family members and one cow. “We are only managing to feed our cow with great difficulty.” According to him, other villagers are also struggling to access fodder. 

Rajesh said that in the absence of government aid, villagers are trying to help each other survive the floods. For instance, he said he offered his boat to anyone who required it. “The way we are helping others with our boat, people are also helping out,” he told me. “We have not received any relief from the government.” Rajesh mentioned that there is a need for “health check-ups, but no doctor has come in this direction.” During our conversation on 15 August, he said the flood was getting more severe. 

Other villagers also told me that they had not received compensation from the government. Among them was Bhuwal Yadav, a resident of Johirnarendra village in Kushinagar district. Bhuwal said he lives in a joint family of 25 people. While he and two of his younger brothers are still studying, three of his elder brothers used to work as labourers in cities. “Due to coronavirus, they have come home,” he said. “My family is engaged in farming to make ends meet. But the flood has ruined the crop.” Bhuwal said the deluge washed away the family’s two bigha paddy. He was worried that if the floodwater stays on, it would cause even more challenges for his family. “I had some sugarcane crop too, it will get ruined if the water stays on.” He added that there was little water supply in the village. “We have not received any compensation for our losses yet,” he told me on 15 August.

Bhuwal, too, owned livestock. “We have three buffalos, a couple of oxen, three goats and one cow,” he said. “There is no arrangement of us to feed our animals—we are just giving them bamboo leaves or leaves of sugarcane for now. People are forced to sell their animals.” 

While almost everyone I spoke to mentioned that they were struggling to access fodder, the chief minister’s office has been tweeting about its efforts to ensure livestock security in its flood-hit areas. On 19 August, it posted that 362 camps for animals were active in these areas, 6,68,392 animals have been vaccinated to protect them from diseases and that 2,743 quintals of straw had been distributed. 

I spoke to Arvind Bharti, a resident of Kushinagar, who said he was veterinary worker in Ahiraulidan village. Bharti told me that he and one more person in his village work towards implementing a government initiative to vaccinate animals against foot-and-mouth disease. “Animals catch Gal-Ghotu disease”—Heamorrhagic Septicaemia—“during floods. This is for that,” he told me. “Even after vaccinating 450 animals, I have not received any money.”

Bharti said he holds a bachelor’s of education, but since last year winter he has been working as a veterinary worker due to financial constraints. “I have been putting tags on buffaloes,” he said. According to him, this was a part of a government initiative. “The yellow tags on the animals’ connect its Aadhaar with the owner’s Aadhaar. I am supposed to get Rs 2 for putting one tag. But I have not received any money yet.” 

A report published on the Hindustan Times’s website in January 2019, refered to a scheme that the centre launched “two years ago largely to keep the animals in good health and check their illegal trade,” which has made ear-tagging compulsory. “The radio-frequency enabled ear-tag is a 12-digit unique identification number, like the Aadhaar, affixed as a yellow tamper-proof tag inside the ear of animals like cows and buffaloes,” the report said. It quoted KK Chauhan, a veterinary expert and animal husbandry department official, saying that the chip contains the “animal’s entire profile like its date of birth, gender, breed, lactation cycle, the amount of milk it gives, the vaccination it requires and has been given, the owner’s name and address, etc.”

But it is unclear exactly which initiative Bharti is working for. I emailed the state government’s animal husbandry department for more information about the initiative Bharti described and his allegations of non-payment of dues. I also wrote to the relief commissioner’s office for comments about on the issues that the residents said they were facing. This story will be updated if and when they respond.

Bharti also raised the same complaints as other residents. He said he had paddy and sugarcane spread over two bighas of land, and the crops were still inundated. “Our condition was already bad due to coronavirus, and now this flood is here,” he said, before adding that the devastation caused by the flood this year appears to be of a larger scale than ever before. “We are unable to find fodder for our animals,” he said. “People are living in terror.” 

Both Bharti and Rajesh told me they had seen several villagers who had lost their homes live in tarpauline tents near the embankments in their villages. Surendra Kumar, a resident of Hamtatband village in Kushinagar, also described a similar scene. “People are staying there with their animals. Most people are unable to feed their animals, they are unable to find fodder,” he said. “Due to the lack of electricity, our phones are not being charged.” 

Surendra and Rakesh Kumar—a farmer in Kushinagar’s Momakhas village—voiced their concerns about the condition of embankments of the Gandak river. “People are always in fear of the embankment breaking,” Rakesh, who said he lives close to one embankment on the river, told me. “No work has been done on the embankment for fifteen years now. Now its condition has deteriorated.” When I spoke to him on 15 August, he said, “This time, the river is also rising. Our village is completely flooded.” 

Surendra said his village is located about fifty meters away from the Gandak river. One embankment on the river has not seen any maintenance work for twenty years, according to him. “Now when the flood is here, all officials have shown up to work on the embankment,” he said. Government officials were laying sacks of soil on the embankment, he said, to stop the river from flowing into the village. “Even if they put a hundred or two hundred sacks of soil now, the flow is so fast that it will be difficult to stop.” 

Over one hundred kilometres away, Arun Patel, a farmer in Sahnupur village in Azamgarh district, also said two embankments near his village were in a poor condition. Arun said he is married to the pradhan of the village, Savita Patel. “We have river Sarayu here, a tributary of the Ghaghara river. On both its sides, the embankments are in a bad condition,” he said. “From what I can recall, there has never been any maintenance work on these embankments.” He reiterated what others had said—this is not the first time that several villages in the state have suffered from floods. “Despite this, no government has taken any concrete action on this.”

Arun said there is a dearth of aid from the government too. “We need boats right now, but they are not being run,” he said. “I have only seen 450 people receive ration kits. At least thirty thousand people need them.” 

Everyone said they needed the government to help them as soon as possible. “Last year, during the floods, houses had fallen down,” Surendra said. “And we received no help from the government.” Chandramani told me that the environment in his village was bleak. “Everyday, there is some conversation of one person or another’s home falling due to the flood. When the water recedes, many diseases will spread—the problem will increase. And people have neither work nor money,” he said. “Right now, we are all in complete fear.”